MMObility: Windows 8 and gaming in the Metro browser

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MMObility: Windows 8 and gaming in the Metro browser
Java Warning on Windows 8
So, you've heard about the recent Windows 8 release but aren't sure whether or not you should upgrade? How will the operating system affect your gaming, and are you going to go with any of the Microsoft Surface products? All of these questions can be answered in numerous ways, but I wanted to answer it from the standpoint of a mobile gaming fan. After all, it is my belief that mobile gaming will soon dominate gaming in the world... might as well be prepared!

But how does Windows 8 affect a mobile MMO fan like yours truly? Well, Windows 8 does a heckuva lot. It offers a ton of flexibility and fun new ways to interact with your PC. But it can also be a very confusing new addition. I sat down to figure out some of these issues with the help of Ben Adams, CTO of Illyriad Games. He knows more about mobile tech than I do and was able to sort out the differences between the Windows 8 browsers for me. Let's get to it.

Windows 8 preview
Windows 8 really shines on a touch-enabled device. I myself own a Dell Inspiron Duo, a netbook that transforms into a tablet. You might have seen other laptops or netbooks attempt this, especially recently. Well, the Duo is a great device but is sort of underpowered for hosting a full copy of Windows 7 as it did when it shipped. I didn't have as much fun with it simply because the full Windows 7 experience was clunky and slow, even though it was handy when I needed a full PC that weighed a few pounds.

I started by adding the Windows 8 preview and later upgraded to the full Pro version as soon as I could. It's only around $40 US, so it's a great deal; a household could easily afford copies for all machines. Immediately the new OS made life with the formerly sluggish device much better. Performance went up, and the emphasis on touch meant that I actually used the little netbook in the way it was intended. If I need access to a full browser to play, say, Glitch, I can have it. If I prefer to use the new "Metro" version of Internet Explorer 10 (which is much faster and better for touchscreens), then I can do that as well.

Unfortunately, this means that I have to use a few different browsers on any one day. Allow me to explain.

"See, Metro does away with a lot of the addons you might use. It includes Flash, but only from sites that have been whitelisted by Microsoft. That means a game like Glitch cannot run in the Metro browser."

Windows 8 comes with essentially two browsers, both versions of the same Internet Explorer, but one is the full, normal Internet Explorer experience that you might (or might not) be used to, while the other is the Metro version. The Metro version is a lighter, faster, and generally safer browser that is suited perfectly for touch. It features large buttons when they are needed, but when in general use, the browser stays in glorious fullscreen mode. Right-clicking brings up any menu I need. I actually prefer it over other browsers -- that is, until I need a full browser experience.

See, Metro does away with a lot of the browser addons you might use. It includes Flash, but only from sites that have been "whitelisted" by Microsoft. That means a game like Glitch cannot run in the Metro browser. In fact, Metro does away with a lot of standard plugins that can actually make our normal browsing slower and in a lot of cases less secure. Many security issues stem from common plugins like Flash and Java, but Windows often gets the blame for those issues. With Metro, Microsoft has now avoided being listed on Kasperky's list of top 10 vulnerabilities. The article even recommends uninstalling Java completely! (It's not allowed in the Metro browser.)

Windows 8 Metro browser selection
So, without all of these common plugins, what is a mobile gamer to do with a Metro browser? Your best bet is to go for HTML5 games. I have a list of these games bookmarked on all of my machines. The list includes Illyriad (already in the Windows 8 store), Grepolis, Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances, Lagoonia, and others. The great thing about HTML5, and the reason Google, Microsoft, Adobe and others are paying such attention to it, is that it will work in almost anything. Build it in HTML5 and you can do away with many incompatibilities. You can run whitelisted Flash-based MMOs on the desktop version of IE on the Surface RT.

Of course, you can also wait until the other Surface is released, the Pro version. It comes with a 3rd-gen Intel Core i5 processor and four gigs of RAM. It's powerful enough to handle many browser-based MMOs, even some of the heavy hitters that utilize fancy graphics or engines like Unity. There are a lot of choices with games like Glitch, Forge of Empires, Nadirim, Ministry of War, RuneScape and many, many others. The Surface Pro is basically a laptop or a very powerful tablet. Will it be worth the cost?

All of those Flash-based MMOs like Evony or those hosted on Facebook should be able to run with no issues on the Surface Pro desktop browsers. Be aware that some games, like Dungeon Blitz on Facebook, will still require a keyboard. Luckily you can nab one of the nifty keyboard covers with your Surface, or you can use an add-on.

"It might seem odd that Windows 8 ships with the two different browsers. But let's remember what Microsoft is attempting to do: move into the modern era with an OS that actually works well with touch."

It might seem odd that Windows 8 ships with the two different browsers. But let's remember what Microsoft is attempting to do. The company is moving into the modern era with an OS that actually works well with touch. Touch-enabled devices, like smartphones and tablets, will likely take over the market as primary personal computers for most people. If we want to use a faster, safer browser for surfing the web and performing basic tasks as well as play HTML5 and other "whitelisted" games, then we can use the Metro browser. If we need to use a standard browser, however, we will still have the choice.

Remember what Apple has done with the iPad. To date, Apple has sold millions and millions of the nifty devices and has literally changed the way the market expects to compute. Apple essentially told consumers, "Buy our way or don't use the iPad," and now many of us are comfortable using the app store. Microsoft is moving things forward by emphasizing HTML5, a more flexible medium, but still allowing consumers to find the same browser experience as before. Having choices is always better than having none.

I am loving Windows 8 on all of my devices and actually prefer the Metro browser so much that it is my default browser. If I open a link or bookmarked site that demands Flash, like Glitch, then it opens the appropriate desktop browser. In exchange I have a more solid and much faster operating system that has breathed new life into my older, touch-enabled netbook and even into my brand-new desktop.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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